Ivy plants were first brought to the UK from Eurasia in 1727 and according to records, there are now between 12 and 15 separate species growing worldwide. All fall into either the ground-creeping or climbing varieties, both of which delight and infuriate horticulturalists in equal measure, clinging on to any given surface with a singular determination – climbing Ivy can reach up to 30 metres above ground, proving a sound option for sprucing up brick walls.
Trying to tame or remove ivy’s unruly tendrils however, is a different story. Despite common misconception, ivy is not a parasite and does not penetrate the bark or roots of other trees. But certain invasive exotic species can spread quickly, outcompeting other plants for light and resources.
From bad guy to saviour though, the Ancient Greeks thought ivy was capable of reducing swelling and that it also contained anaesthetic properties. It was used by Hippocrates to prevent “alcohol intoxication”, supposedly; while in more recent times, people thought that a goblet covered in the stuff would save you from a hangover.
While these supposed benefits are not necessarily to be relied upon, ivy is known for helping to reduce inflammation and as such is sometimes used as an alternative remedy to ease the symptoms of asthma, bronchitis and congestion, as well as to soothe sore stomachs.
It’s also a beloved symbol of Christmas, being both a household decoration and the subject of countless festive carols. In his 1996 classic flower encyclopedia, Flora Britannica, Richard Mabey suggested that the reason “the holly bears the crown” according to the famous carol ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ is because the "red-berried, festive holly was seen as a man's plant, and the entwining, black-berried ivy as a woman's". Though we’re not sure many of the strong women named after this wild, verdant plant would necessarily agree.
From Beyonce’s first-born, Blue Ivy, to Ivy Williams, the first woman to be called to the English bar in 1922, the name has retained its popularity across the decades, denoting a certain wildness and resilience.
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